I stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button for the floor of my apartment. Just before the doors slid completely closed, a thin man slipped through.
I swallowed a groan.
Of all of the places I hated to be stuck with a stranger, elevators were in a constant battle with buses for the number one spot on the list. The inescapable close proximity made it impossible for people to resist talking to me, spilling their guts and telling me things they wouldn’t tell their closest friends.
Such is the life of a truther.
In my peripheral vision, I watched the man move to the opposite side of the car as the elevator started to rise. Looking to be in his early forties, he wore a blue shirt, blue jeans, and black boots. His dark hair was cropped close and his desire for eye contact seemed minimal.
I obliged, turning my attention to the lighted numbers above the door signaling our ascent. I didn’t know him, didn’t know why he’d be going to my floor, and hoped we’d get there before he was overwhelmed with the desire to tell me. Rarely am I ever in the mood to listen, but today I really wasn’t. What was supposed to be a lazy day at home had been interrupted by a trip to the post office that couldn’t be avoided. Being required to put on real pants (albeit snazzy jeans with a lot of unnecessary patches that made my ass look fantastic) put me in an unforgiveable mood.
The elevator car jerked and stuttered. I grabbed the railing as the car shimmied to a stop, the lights flickering a couple of times as it did. For a moment, neither of us moved, the sound of harsh breathing filling the car. Once I was sure moving wouldn’t plummet us to our deaths, I reached forward and pushed the open door button on the panel. Nothing happened. I pushed it a couple of more times and then pushed the button for my floor. Still nothing.
Suspicion confirmed: we were stuck.
I sighed, irritated, and stepped forward, pushing the emergency button. A bell sounded and then silence. I don’t exactly live in an upscale place. I had no idea what good that button would do.
Folding my arms, I leaned against the wall next to the panel and looked at my fellow stranded passenger.
He was crammed in the far corner, hands jammed in his pockets, staring hard at the floor. He was shaking a little.
Great, I thought. He’s either claustrophobic or he’s about to explode some truth all over the paneling in here.
The guy exploded.
“I’m a serial killer.”
I resisted the urge to bang my head against an available wall. The Universe really knows how to ruin a day.
“Of course you are.”
The guy looked as horrified as I’m sure I was supposed to feel. Part of me was horrified and terrified to be trapped with a murderer, but the overriding part of me was too numb from experience and too irritated to begin with to allow much of the shock to affect me.
“I didn’t mean to say that,” the man said, putting his hands up like I might club him any second.
It was a thought.
“Of course you didn’t,” I said. “No one ever does.” I sighed and pushed some strands of my hair that had fallen out of my sloppy, hadn’t-been-washed-yet bun out of my face. “So, what’s your name, serial killer?”
“Ste-Jerry Cornell,” the guy said. He stared at me, bewildered. “What the hell?”
I just shook my head. “My name’s Maisie Day. Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes. What are you doing in my building, Mr. Cornell?”
“Nothing. I was just here…to…visit…some…one…and kill them.” The last three words came out in a rush and Cornell slapped his hand over his mouth to punctuate his sentence.
“Don’t try to fight it, Mr. Cornell,” I said. “Either the truth comes out anyway or your head explodes. That’s just how it is.”
“How what is?”
“How it is when I ask people questions. You don’t have a choice. You have to answer them and you have to tell the truth. Otherwise…SPLAT!”
“Just how it is,” I repeated with a shrug. “So, who were you going to see?”
Cornell’s face turned red while his lips turned white from the force of him trying to keep the truth from escaping.
“Ruth Cunningham,” he said finally, the name coming out with an expulsion of air like a man that had been trying to set a record for holding his breath.
I frowned. “You’re going to kill Miss Ruth? Now why would you want to do that? I like her. She’s a nice lady.”
“Because it satisfies a sexual urge for me that can’t be satisfied any other way,” Cornell said and again slapped his hand over his mouth, eyes wide above it. The flush of his face now was from embarrassment instead of exertion.
“I’m told that happens,” I said, nodding slowly, my own embarrassment tempered somewhat. It wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever heard in an elevator, which is a shame, really.
“Well,” I said, shrugging one shoulder and scratching behind one ear, “I suppose you realize that since I know what you’re going to do that I’m not going to just stand aside and let you do it.”
“Oh really?” Cornell drew himself up and stepped forward. “And just what are you going to do about it?”
“Uh, call the police,” I said. “And go to Miss Ruth’s apartment so you don’t kill her.”
“What if I stop you?”
Cornell stepped back as his mouth worked soundlessly, trying to prevent the truth.
“You can’t kill me in this elevator,” I said, letting him off the truth hook to beat him with some logic. “It’s got cameras. Your face is already known.”
Cornell ducked, trying to avert Big Brother’s gaze.
“And how awkward would it look if you got off the elevator and left a dead girl behind? This is a pretty busy apartment building. Lots of lazy people and only one elevator. People are always waiting. There’s no way you’re going to be able to explain my corpse to them. If anything they’ll probably lynch you for jacking up their elevator. A murder investigation, even an open and shut case, would have it shut down for a couple of hours. There’d be a riot.”
Cornell was clearly having trouble processing what was going on. He wasn’t used to not having the upper hand in close situations like this, I could tell.
“I don’t have to kill Ruth, you know,” Cornell said, trying to regain some control. “I could follow you home instead.”
He smiled at me in what was surely supposed to be a chilling way. I smiled back.
“Don’t be stupid,” I said. “I could make your head explode with one question.”
I cocked my head to one side, amused. “Oh, yes I can. Do you want to find out?”
Cornell stared at me, uncertainty making him look a lot more innocent than he was.
The elevator jerked and started moving again. We both looked at the ceiling and then at each other.
“Do yourself a favor,” I said. “Don’t get off the elevator. Find some hole and hope the police don’t find you. Because I’ll be calling them. Right after I visit Miss Ruth.”
The elevator came to a natural halt at my floor. As I expected, six people stood waiting in the hallway. They let me get off before they crowded into the car. I turned, catching a glimpse of Cornell at the back of the crowd as the doors slid closed.
Walking past my apartment, I stopped at the next one and knocked on Miss Ruth’s door. A tiny, but fiery looking lady with short white hair, big glasses, and an overly bedazzled sweatshirt that matched her metallic pants smiled up at me.
“Oh, hi, Maisie. I thought you were someone else. I’m expecting a gentleman friend.”
“Yeah, about that,” I said. “I met him in the elevator. He won’t be coming today.”